Women's History Month

Women’s History Month

March is the annual declared month where we celebrate and reflect on wahine's (women's) achievements. From back in the times of Queen Ka'ahumanu - Hawaii's most influential woman in history - to today's Big Wave Surf Champion Paige Alms, Hawaii wahines have been accomplishing the incredible.

Queen Ka’ahumanu, born in 1768, was considered to be the most powerful woman as King Kamehameha the Great’s favorite wife, most trusted advisor, and the kingdom’s first kuhina nui (a rough equivalent to the prime minister). She was a feminist of her time, advocating for women’s rights and equality between their male counterparts.

What started as a request for Kamehameha II to eat at the same table as women, which was forbidden, turned into the complete transformation of the entire kapu governing and political system. This perilous act could have resulted in her death, but instead abolished the very system creating inequality for women.

In the 1800’s the Hawaiian people were dying at a devastating rate due to European influence and introduction to new diseases such as smallpox, measles, and polio. Queen Emma, wife to Kamehameha IV, initiated the building of St. Andrews Priority School for Girls and Queen’s Hospital. Queen’s Hospital, first opened in 1860, provided free services to native Hawaiians, and the hospital is still the largest private non-profit hospital in Honolulu today.

During this time of European invasion peril, westerners and missionaries attempted to abolish surfing, and it was Princess Kaiulani who lifted the ban. She brought surfing to California via three male Hawaiian Princes, and introduced the sport to England. 

Women have been surfing in Hawaii since the 1600’s, and continue to make momentus strides in this male dominated sport. Surfing ancient legend, Maui Princess Kalea, was described as one of the best surfers in the Hawaiian Kingdom. The oldest known surfboard was found in Princess Kaneamuna’s burial cave on the Big Island, and the God Mamala is portrayed as a half-woman, half-shark who rode the waves.

Flash forward to the 1960’s and 70’s a new kind of queen was taking over Hawaii, Rell Kapolioka’ehukai Sunn, known as Queen of Makaha. She was a pioneer in the world of women’s surfing, and graced the sport with her smooth style. Sunn surfed every day while battling breast cancer, which ultimately extended her life another 15 years.

Today in Maui nothing is bigger than Jaws, where waves reach over 60 feet. Up until 5 years ago only men were surfing in the Jaws Challenge, that is until Paige Alms, one of Maui’s token big wave surfers, came into the picture. In 2016 she became the first female Big Wave Champion, and won again the following two years.

Alms continues to push herself to ride the biggest waves possible alongside her peers and hopes by doing so she can inspire other people to push their limits and live their dreams!

Women’s month acknowledges, commemorates, and celebrates the vital role of women in history - paving the way for women today.

Blog written by Shannon Strazdas for Island Essence